For Immediate Release

[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN) and Angus King (I-ME) today introduced legislation designed to help students manage costs by making high quality textbooks easily accessible to students, professors and the public for free. This bill, known as the Affordable College Textbook Act, would create a competitive grant program to support the creation and use of open college textbooks—textbooks that are available under an open license, allowing professors, students, researchers and others to freely access the materials. Companion legislation was introduced today in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representatives Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX) and Jared Polis (D-CO).

“In the ongoing nationwide debate about the rising cost of college, one of the most basic and direct costs to students is often overlooked: textbooks,” Durbin said. “In 2012, faculty at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign created an open textbook using federal funds that was published electronically for free use. At least a dozen schools throughout the country have contacted the University of Illinois about the text or are using it today. The book was also used in a Massive Open Online Course on Coursera that has been sampled by at least 60,000 students. The Affordable College Textbook Act can replicate and build on the successes we’ve already seen in Illinois. I hope college faculty throughout the country will explore the opportunities that exist today to use open source materials in their courses to save students money and I hope my colleagues in Congress will support this legislation to provide federal support to that effort.”

“During my time in the Senate, I’ve held numerous college affordability roundtables all across Minnesota,” said Franken, a member of the Senate Education Committee. “And the reality is that our college students are taking on more debt than ever while also working more and more hours to stay afloat. When it comes to paying for college, one thing that’s often overlooked is the rising cost of textbooks and supplies. By expanding access to free online textbooks, our bill would help address this problem and allow students and families to keep more of their hard-earned money.”

“College students spend thousands of dollars on textbooks over the course of their academic career – and as the cost of those textbooks increases, the harder it becomes to afford them, which only forces students to reach deeper into their pockets or risk jeopardizing their academic careers,” King said. “To help solve this problem, our bill would encourage colleges to develop innovative educational resources, like open textbooks, that can provide the information students need in an affordable way. As we look for ways to gain a better handle on rising college costs, creative programs like these can help position students to succeed academically while saving them money – a win-win for their future.”

“When buying a textbook becomes a barrier to education, you know something has to be changed, and that’s exactly what we want to achieve with the Affordable College Textbook Act,” said Hinojosa. “I have always strived to make college more accessible and more affordable for students, and this legislation will lessen the high cost of an important commodity for learning while helping students save money.”

“In my district, students at Colorado State University and the University of Colorado-Boulder spend thousands of dollars just on college textbooks, and the costs keep going up,” said Polis. “Higher education ought to be accessible and affordable for everyone, and Congress has a responsibility to help lower that cost however we can. That’s why I’m proud to co-lead the Affordable College Textbooks Act. Improving access to open textbooks is an innovative way to save students hundreds of dollars a semester, and it’s an important step toward lowering the overall price tag on a college degree.”

Textbook costs are one of the most overlooked costs of going to college, but they can be substantial and can be a barrier to attaining a college education. According to College Board, the average student budget for college books and supplies during the 2014-2015 academic year was $1,225.

“For students and families that are already struggling to afford a college education, it’s not just an expensive textbook anymore – it’s a serious barrier,” said Ethan Senack, Higher Education Advocate at U.S. PIRG. “For decades, publishers have capitalized on their captive market. This bill restores some competition to an industry where just a handful of publishing giants have managed to prevent it – saving students a ton of money and potentially improving student outcomes at the same time. It’s a no-brainer.”

Today’s legislation expands on the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act which contained provisions from Durbin’s College Textbook Affordability Act that aimed to make more information available to students looking to manage college textbook costs. Durbin introduced his bill after learning of troubling practices by the publishing industry to create new textbook editions with little new content to drive up costs and bundle additional and often unwanted materials to required texts at students’ expense. The 2008 law required textbook publishers to disclose to faculty the cost of a textbooks to their students, required schools to publish textbook information in course catalogues when practicable, and required publishers to offer unbundled supplemental materials so students had choices. The provisions took effect on July 1, 2010.

While a June 2013 GAO Report required by the law found that students had more information and publishers and schools were generally complying with the new disclosure requirements, it also found that the price of textbooks had continued to rise.

“Textbook prices are simply unaffordable and have become a barrier to academic success for too many students,” said Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education for SPARC, an alliance of academic libraries. “This bill would help more colleges leverage open educational resources to make higher education more affordable and accessible for all.”

The limited federal investment in the creation and expanded use of a set of high-quality, introductory level college textbooks outlined in the Affordable College Textbook Act can improve learning, access, and affordability for all college students. Making high-quality open textbooks freely available to the general public can significantly lower college textbook costs and increase accessibility to higher education. Open textbooks can also improve learning and teaching through course materials that are more flexible, adaptable, and accessible for professors.

Specifically, the Affordable College Textbook Act:

  • Creates a grant program to support pilot programs at colleges and universities to create and expand the use of open textbooks with priority for those programs that will achieve the highest savings for students;
  • Ensures that any open textbooks or educational materials created using program funds will be freely and easily accessible to the public;
  • Requires entities who receive funds to complete a report on the effectiveness of the program in achieving savings for students;
  • Improves existing requirements for publishers to make all textbooks and other educational materials available for sale individually rather than as a bundle; and
  • Requires the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress by 2017 with an update on the price trends of college textbooks.

The Affordable College Textbook Act is support by U.S. PIRG, Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition, National Association of College Stores, Young Invincibles, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, Service Employees International Union, American Association of Community Colleges, Association of Community College Trustees, UNCF, Creative Commons, Association of Research Libraries, Association of College & Research Libraries, OurTime.